Israeli Professor Calls a Palestinian Student a "Cockroach" During Mock Event

At what point does free speech go too far? Should a college professor be permitted to curse at a student and call her/him a "cockroach"?

As part of National Israeli Apartheid Week, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a mock Israeli checkpoint on March 4 outside of Collins Dining Hall at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Students trying to enter the dining hall were asked to present identification and actors participating in the mock checkpoint were detained. The aim of the performance was to highlight the existence of illegal Israeli checkpoints all around the West Bank and Gaza.  

During the checkpoint simulation, Pitzer College student, Najib Hamideh, asked Associate Professor of Economics, Yaron Raviv for identification as he tried to enter the dinning hall. Raviv’s response, “F*ck off, you cockroach.” Raviv then asked Hamideh what school he attends and responded, “All Pitzer kids are cockroaches.” Several witnesses at the event confirmed these statements.

Hamideh had this to say about the incident: “It is a great irony that at a checkpoint simulation on campus that I helped to organize, I experienced an Israeli calling me a cockroach, just as has been done to me many times before at actual checkpoints in the West Bank. To me, this is a discriminatory incident and I personally do not feel comfortable as a student on a campus where a faculty member is allowed to demean me and curse at me.” 

SJP released this statement in regards to the verbal exchange, “Use of the term ‘cockroach’ must be taken in its specific historical context as hateful, racist, enemy imagery. Much academic literature has been dedicated to the subject of animal enemy imagery for the way in which deeming a people ‘cockroaches’ allows for their dehumanization. Other relevant cases of racist cockroach enemy imagery include the reference to Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide and to Jews under Nazi Germany.” 

As Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College investigate the verbal altercation between the student and professor, physical threats have surfaced. A message that read, “this carrel is reserved for me to f*ck N. Hamideh in the skull” was found on the card that reserved a room in the Honnold/Mudd Library for the Pitzer College student on Tuesday, March 11. Two days following this incident, Hamideh found a sharpened key jammed into on of his car tires.

As the investigation continues, the Claremont Colleges Communication Protocol of Bias Related Incidents will be evaluated. This protocol stipulates that bias-related incidents will be addressed if the conduct “violates one or more of the Claremont College’s disciplinary codes and which is not protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or by analogous provisions of state law.”  

It is unlikely that that college will carry out any disciplinary action if the incident is not deemed a hate crime.